North American waters are home to many different species of crabs. Some are as small as erasers, such as the Florida mole crab, and others are so big they can’t fit into a washtub, like the Alaskan king crabs. No matter the size, all crabs are a favorite food of game fish.
By choosing crabs as your bait, you’ll open your options to a large variety of fish. Permit, tarpon, redfin and snook all love to eat crabs. And some fish, like cobia, are specifically known for being crab eaters.
How to Fish with Crab
To fish with a live crab, use a short-shank 3x-strong hook matched to the quarry. For slot reds and permit, use a 2/0 to 3/0 and for cobia and tarpon, try a 5/0 or 6/0. Use the smaller 1 or 1/0 size for small crabs, like hermit crabs, if you’re trying to catch pompano. And if you’re using a tiny mole crab to catch pompano, opt for a size 1 or 2 light-wire hook.
When using crabs as bait, you can either use them whole or pull them apart. To use them whole, bear down and push the hook through the shell. Then twist the hook through one of the pointy parts of the shell located on both sides of the body. When you hook a crab this way, it should live for a decent amount of time, giving it ample time to attract a fish.
Fishing with Blue Crabs
You can find blue crab anywhere from Texas to Virginia. To catch them, all you need is a piece of chicken neck or mullet and a trap that you can hang off a dock. When choosing the best blue crab for your bait, look for the smaller ones that are up to four inches across. If you have larger blue crabs, you’ll want to cut them in half. Redfish, drum and especially cobia love crabs.
Fishing with Fiddler Crabs
Fiddler crabs, which you can find around oyster bars, in backcountry creeks and on muddy shorelines, are a great bait to use for sheepshead, permit, redfish and pompano. The best way to catch fiddler crabs is by making a funnel-looking trap from pieces of plywood. You’ll want to start with plywood pieces that are about eight feet long and six inches tall. Stand the plywood on edge, then hold them in place with some stakes. Finally, push a 5-gallon bucket down into the sand at the smaller end of the funnel and herd the crabs inside.
Other Types of Crab Baits
Mole crabs, sometimes known as sand fleas, are a great bait to use for pompano, snook, and many other fish. You can catch your own sand fleas using a special rake that you can buy at the local tackle shop in many beach communities. Bring your rake to the beach, then when you see some mole crabs near the surf line, run your rake through the sand.
Hermit crabs are a favorite bait to use to catch permit in the tropics. They’re easy to catch because they move slowly. You can usually find hermit crabs by walking along the beach. If you see some, just snatch them up, pull them out of their shell and pop them on your hook. They are an almost sure-fire way to catch permit.
Black mangrove crabs are found in the peninsular part of Florida. You can find swarms of them around the roots of mangrove trees. Since they’re about the size of a 50-cent piece, they’re the perfect bait for sheepshead, pompano and reds. To catch them, wait until low tide, then place some cut bait in the mud next to the seawalls or mangrove roots. Then, cover the bait with a carboard box soaked in salt water and wait for the crabs to come. Once the crabs are in the box, scoop them up. If you don’t have a box, they’ll be harder to catch because they’ll be able to skitter away.
The peeler crab is another species of crab that you can use for saltwater fishing.
How to Keep Your Crabs Alive
You’ll find that most crabs will survive in a flow-through livewell. However, before putting them inside, make sure you remove their pincers, so they don’t pinch your fingers – or each other. You can put semi-aquatic crabs, like fiddler and hermit crabs, in a 5-gallon bucket with some wet seaweed. This should keep them alive for several days.
Crab Lure Imitations
You can also use artificial crabs to catch fish like redfish, sheepshead and black drum. The best way to use them is to simply drop them down next to some pilings or drag them slowly around the bottom of a structure.